I am learning about twenty new Italian words a day. I'm always studying, flipping through my index cards while I walk around the city, dodging local pedestrians. Where am I getting the brain space to store these words? I'm hoping that maybe my mind has decided to clear out some old negative thoughts and sad memories and replace them with these shiny new words.
I work hard at Italian, but I keep hoping it will one day just be revealed to me, whole, perfect. One day I will open my mouth and be magically fluent. Then I will be a real Italian girl, instead of a total American who still can't hear someone call across the street to his friend Marco without wanting instinctively to yell back "Polo!" I wish that Italian would simply take up residence within me, but there are so many glitches in this language. Like, why are the Italian words for "tree" and "hotel" ( albero vs. albergo) so very similar? This causes me to keep accidentally telling people that I grew up on "a Christmas hotel farm" instead of the more accurate and slightly less surreal description: "Christmas tree farm." And then there are words with double or even triple meanings. For instance: tasso. Which can mean either interest rate, badger, or yew tree. Depending on the context,
I suppose. Most upsetting to me is when I stumble on Italian words that are actually--I hate to say it--ugly. I take this as almost a personal affront. I'm sorry, but I didn't come all the way to Italy to learn how to say a word like schermo (screen).
Still, overall it's so worthwhile. It's mostly a pure pleasure. Giovanni and I have such a good time teaching each other idioms in English and Italian. We were talking the other evening about the phrases one uses when trying to comfort someone who is in distress. I told him that in English we sometimes say, "I've been there." This was unclear to him at first--I've been where? But I explained that deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.
"So sadness is a place?" Giovanni asked. "Sometimes people live there for years," I said.
In return, Giovanni told me that empathizing Italians say L'ho provato sulla mia pelle, which means "I have experienced that on my own skin." Meaning, I have also been burned or scarred in this way, and I know exactly what you're going through.
So far, though, my favorite thing to say in all of Italian is a simple, common word:
It means, "Let's cross over." Friends say it to each other constantly when they're walking down the sidewalk and have decided it's time to switch to the other side of the street. Which is to say, this is literally a pedestrian word. Nothing special about it. Still, for some reason, it goes right through me. The first time Giovanni said it to me, we were walking near the Colosseum. I suddenly heard him speak that beautiful word, and I stopped dead, demanding, "What does that mean? What did you just say?"
He couldn't understand why I liked it so much. Let's cross the street? But to my ear, it's the perfect combination of Italian sounds. The wistful ah of introduction, the rolling trill, the soothing s, that lingering "ee-ah-moh" combo at the end. I love this word. I say it all the time now. I invent any excuse to say it. It's making Sofie nuts. Let's cross over! Let's cross over! I'm constantly dragging her back and forth across the crazy traffic of Rome. I'm going to get us both killed with this word.
Giovanni's favorite word in English is half-assed.
Luca Spaghetti's is surrender.